The Greene County Early Learning Center plans to serve an additional 50 children in a new building.

Early Learning Center plans $2.9M building

Fundraising will begin early next year for a new, $2.9 million home for the Greene County Early Learning Center on Vine Street, the nonprofit organization announced this week.

Construction is expected to take about a year to complete, but the bid process won’t begin until adequate funding is secured, according to a news release.

Funding will come from a number of sources, including grants, public entities, private businesses and individuals. No bond issue would be applicable.

With a consistent waiting list of families seeking child care, the hope is to be able to accommodate an additional 50 children with a new building, the news release stated. A First Children’s Finance study commissioned in 2017 by GCELC leadership projected a potential for more than 100 additional children with shifts in commuting/employment patterns and/or population growth.

Child care was identified as a high-need priority in the Vision 2020 plan as vital to bringing new families to Greene County.

The issue was alleviated slightly in 2018 with the construction on Westwood Drive of Natural Wonders Learning Center, opened by the mother-daughter team of Annette Foster and Nicole Timmons, who both left jobs as public school teachers.

“The need for access to quality, available and affordable child care is no longer solely a parent issue. It’s an economic issue, a workforce issue and an infrastructure issue,” Bill Monroe, GCELC board co-president, said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to attract and retain workforce and to grow our community and county.”

Monroe shares the board presidency with Jacque Andrew.

The current center — located in the current administration building of Greene County Schools on West Madison Street — is licensed for 94 children.

Constructed in the 1950s as an elementary school with block and brick construction — and still regarded locally as the “South Grade” — the building and part of the city block will be made available to the GCELC when the school’s administrative operations move to new locations as part of the district’s $35.48 million building project.

Costs to renovate came in higher than expected for minimal upgrades and addressing new code requirements that may need to be met, according to estimates provided to the GCELC board by two engineering firms.

It would also be necessary to relocate the services of the GCELC during the remodeling process — not an easy task to meet DHS requirements.

Benjamin Designs Cooperative Inc. of Ames has prepared a number of conceptual and preliminary drawings for review by the board and the project building committee, which also includes members of the community, center parents, school board, city officials and others.

A 12,800-square-foot wood structure — which will be built with a “hardened” room for safety in case of severe storms — will be located in a north-south orientation on the east side of the block, with an entrance on Vine Street.

During construction, the current building will continue to be used for the child care center with no disruption in service.

Following construction, the current building will be demolished to make way for the center’s playground and other additional green space on the block.

The Greene County Early Learning Center has been serving area children and families since 2005.

GCELC holds an Iowa Quality Rating System star rating of three stars, and has applied for a four-star rating, with five the highest. 

QRS is a voluntary child care rating system for DHS-licensed centers and preschools, Department of Education programs and child development homes as part of Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral.

“Providing the highest quality care for children is the most important priority of GCELC,” center director Cherie Cerveny said.

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